Winifred "Winnie" Ewing, née Woodburn, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and educated at Battlefield School and Queen's Park Senior Secondary School. She graduated from the University of Glasgow with a master's degree and a law degree and became a solicitor and notary public. She joined the Scottish National Party (SNP) and rose to prominence in 1967 when she won election to the British House of Commons with an sensational upset victory at the Hamilton by-election.
She lost that seat
in the 1970 general election. In 1974, she stood for Moray and Nairn and was re-elected to Westminster. She first became a Member of the European Parliament in 1975, at a time when the EP was still composed of representative delegations from national parliaments. In 1979, she won a seat at the EP in its first direct elections. During her time in the EP, she acquired the nickname "Madame Ecosse" (Mrs. Scotland) for her strong advocacy of Scottish interests. By 1995, she had become Britain's longest serving Member of the EP and one of the most influential Scotswomen of her generation. In 1999, she gave up the EP to became a Member of the Scottish Parliament in its historic first session, an institution she helped to create, representing the Highlands and Islands.
She stood down from the Scottish Parliament in 2003, although she continued to serve as the president of the SNP, a position she held for many years, until 2005. Stop the World: The Autobiography of Winnie Ewing, was published in 2004.